Beginning at Romans 2:12, Paul offers an extensive explanation of how the ancient Jews were justified by Moses’ law. He notes at the outset that the law applied only to Israel, not to all people generally. (Christians need to understand that we are not – and never have been – “under the ten commandments” because that law was never addressed to us). Paul em- phasizes that those under that law would be judged according to its requirements, while those not under its authority would be judged in eternity according to a different law (vv. 15-16). The purpose of his explanation is to emphasize that Jews and Jewish Christians were not somehow “better” than Gentile Christians because of their religious background. (Some of them, in fact, might be judged for hypocrisy just as some of the Gentiles they disdained could be judged for idolatry or immorality). Paul summarizes his point in verses 28-29 by driving home the point that true “Jewishness” – that is, acceptability to God – had always rested on the condition of a person’s heart, rather than genealogy or physical circumcision. These words dovetail with his description of the church as the “Israel of God” in Galatians 6:16, and they are reinforced in Romans 11:26, where he writes that “all Israel” will be saved in exactly the same way as the Gentiles; through the blood of Jesus the Christ. In this context, being a “true Jew” is synonymous with submitting to the gospel of Christ, not physical descent from Abraham.
One point we should note see in the familiar words of Romans 3:23 is the fact that there is no “minimum amount” of sin that marks the point at which we begin to “fall short” of God’s glory. All sins are equally offensive to God, and therefore ANY sin can cut us off from His glory! Instead of trying to figure out “how far we can go” with a sin before being condemned, we ought to remember the principle in James 2:10, that “whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” We should also read Paul’s words clearly and carefully in this respect, as well: His declaration that all “have sinned” refers to actions of personal and individual choice and responsibility; he did not say all were “born in sin,” as Calvinist denominations claim.
The ringing declaration of Romans 6:2 should forever lay to rest the false doctrine that somehow “sins don’t count” against Christians because God’s grace will “automatically” excuse us from guilt. Paul is unequivocal in stating that Christians absolutely cannot continue in sin (tarry in it, maintain the practice of it) because in becoming children of God we must “die” to it. That “death” is supposed to take place in baptism, which is the culmination of our choice to turn from Satan/sin/self to submission to God so that we can be raised from spiritual death to spiritual life, apart from sin’s condemnation. If we continue in sin, we effectively nullify (in our own lives) everything Jesus died to accomplish! Note how the Holy Spirit’s imagery here also helps us understand the action of baptism: It is compared to a burial in verse 4, which shows why “modes of baptism” other than complete immersion in water – such as sprinkling a little water, or pouring water on a person – cannot qualify as legitimate baptism. These methods of “baptism” could never be identified with burial. (Actually, the very idea of different “modes” of baptism is foolish, because the word itself means “to dip, plunge, or submerge.” The very definition of the word baptism – full immersion – IS the “mode!”)
In Romans 6:16-18, Paul stresses the role of personal choice in our spiritual condition: No one is a “slave” to Satan except by choice; he has NO power to control us unless we allow him to do so. Our own choices and actions determine whether we will be faithful servants of God or miserable slaves of the evil one, and no other person can make such choices for us! As with all such decisions, however, we must recognize that what we choose has inescapable consequences!